Firestarters: Highlights of the Highly Miscellaneous Part Il: Christmas Edition!

Posted by Whit Barringer , Tuesday, December 25, 2007 12:12 AM

Links for the Holidays (but only a few).

Lamentations on the Perils of Oil Changes at Megastores in which Hot Dogs, Lightbulbs, and Shoes are Sold: A Christmas Story (Part II)

Posted by Whit Barringer , Monday, December 24, 2007 10:13 PM

Welcome to Part II of my lovely little Christmas story. Are you comfortable? Good. Got some eggnog? Eggnog's always good. Right. Onward we go.

[Friday]

So the man who was towing my car took it to the Dodge place in Hot Springs rather than the place where I got it. I drove my mom's car to work (it's not in very good shape, so I was secretly wondering if I'd have to get it towed later on) and was constantly calling people trying to find out something about my car. I told the dealership they would be waiting on my car. I called Wal-Mart to make sure they knew where it was going so they could send an adjuster, but I found out I needed to call at 11:00 (it was 8:30). I got a call from the dealership. The man said he had gotten my car and that "the engine won't even turn over." Well, great. It had completely locked out. I finally got a hold of the person I needed to at Wal-Mart after being transfered six times and then being dropped. I told the manager where my car was, and he said that he'd be sure to send someone to the right place. I found out later that that person was him. The next time I talked to him, he said the insurance company would be talking to me soon and that I "definitely need a new engine." He also said that they had put the wrong filter on my car, and that's why all the oil drained out of my car. Oh, literacy. How you have been underrated.

He also said that he told them not to touch my car until they had been contacted by the insurance agent. Since I was contacted around 4:00 that afternoon, I'm guessing they didn't talk to the dealership until afterward - maybe not until today or Wednesday. I was given a reservation number for a rental car. I was supposed to go ahead and call Enterprise to make sure they had a car for me. I called and they said they would have something available for me at the time I wanted to come in. I said 11:00.

[Saturday]

My grandmother was to be my chauffeur, and she wanted to leave about an hour early because of bad weather. Sure enough, as soon as we rolled into Hot Springs, the rain was coming down in sheets. We went to Enterprise, hoping to get my car and get out. When I told the person my reservation number, he said that they didn't have me coming in at all. He said they only had one vehicle left. A full sized Ram pick-up truck.

Oh, happy day.

So, to finally end a story that's far too long, I' m driving a full-size pick up until Wednesday, when I can change it out for a smaller car (post-Holiday season means more cars, I guess). Me in a huge truck. It's funnier than it sounds. My family, especially my grandparents, always opted out for vans and big trucks. I had a '95 Toyota Tercel for nearly five years, and just recently got an '05 Dodge Stratus. I still have trouble adjusting to driving a larger car. Now I've got that beast of a truck until they get my car fixed. Which will surely be next July.

Moral of the Story: Try to go somewhere besides Wal-Mart. Sometimes the convenience isn't worth it.

Merry Christmas to all those celebrating it, and Happy Holidays to all those who aren't. May you take this time to express how much you love and care for those around you. Including your (hopefully) not-busted car.

Oh my. Look at the time! Gotta go to bed so I can get up early to open presents. Huzzah!

Lamentations on the Perils of Oil Changes at Megastores in which Hot Dogs, Lightbulbs, and Shoes are Sold: A Christmas Story (Part I)

Posted by Whit Barringer , Friday, December 21, 2007 11:00 PM

Every once in a while it doesn't matter what you pay, because incompetence comes in all shapes, forms, and bill sizes.

Let me tell you the first part of a two part story concerning my recent "relations" with Wal-Mart.

[Wednesday]

Once upon a time, my car needed an oil change.

My car was a tad over on mileage (a tad being a smidge of an understatement), but my car was burning no oil and I had put in a liter to make sure that I would have enough. I'd not been putting it off so much as I couldn't go - I was under the assumption that Wal-Mart's auto service closed at 6:00, and I was working late with classes in the morning. So I was on may way home, and decided that once and for all I would stop and get the damn thing serviced.

I stopped at a place that proclaimed "30 MINUTE OIL CHANGE" on the side of its hanger-sized shop (should have been my first clue). Someone met me as I was walking to the office and told me that they only serviced semis. Of course. So I get back on the road and decided to go to the Wal-Mart in Benton, but there's a three car line that doesn't look it will move any time soon. Finally, I decided to stop at the Wal-Mart in Malvern, which is the closest one to my house on my way home.

Reluctantly, I tell the guy all of my information, just knowing that I was going to be at Wal-Mart forever (believe it or not, shopping at Wal-Mart was not something I could afford). So the guy took all my information and I went inside to "shop" - here meaning I looked longingly at all the things I wanted to buy. A familiar feeling, right? At any rate, I bought Flat Earth apple chips (which were really good) and cajun tuna (I wanted fish, dammit), and went to the back to check out. I waited about 10-15 more minutes for my car and then it was ready. I got in it and it was all ready to go - nothing perceivably wrong. I congratulated myself on keeping my car maintained voluntarily before something went wrong, and drove it home.

[Thursday]

The next morning, I left around 8 for work, an hour late. No hitches, no bumps. Around 3:30 that afternoon, I started home. That's when the trouble started.

It started with a rapid clicking noise coming from under the hood. I knew that wasn't right, but when I revved my motor and the sound went away, I thought it was gone. When the RPMs fell back down, the clicking got louder. I was in a wreck - a very small one (less than 5 MPH) - nearly two months ago, but it shifted my radiator up. I thought that my engine was vibrating and making the radiator move and rattle. It was a logical explanation.

I started driving on I-30 on the way home. I was in the left lane when my dashboard lights started coming on. Less than 10 seconds later, my engine cut off. I was going 60 MPH. I coasted my way over to the right line and pulled over. I let the car rest for a minute, racking my brain for the rhyme and reason. I started the car again, and proceeded at about 35 or 40 MPH, trying to get somewhere where I could pull over safely.

It wasn't long at all before the lights came on again. This time I saw the oil light come on first, and the only thing I could think was "surely not." My engine cut off again, and I coasted off onto the Colonel Glenn exit and stopped. I popped the hood, the whole time telling myself "It's definitely not the oil. Not the oil. Not the oil." I checked the oil and, sure enough, it was completely bone dry. Oh, I was angry. I flash-boiled. I called my mother and told her what happened, and that I needed someone to come get me. It would be a full hour before they would even be able to reach me, and that was without traffic.

My mother called my grandmother, who called the wrecker. My mom told me she was on her way. I waited.

I was listening to an NPR review of Sweeney Todd (I thought it was hilarious that the reviewer feared that Depp's singing voice would turn "Sweeney Todd" into "Sweeney Manilow") when my mother called me and told me to call Wal-Mart. Cue hilarious exchanges.

Note: I had calmed down around two minutes after I realized what happened, so I was particularly calm.

I call the Wal-Mart number on my receipt from the oil change.

Customer Service: Hello. Thank you for calling Wal-Mart. How may I direct your call?
Me: Ah, yes. I need to talk to a manager. I came in yesterday to get an oil change, and my car stalled while I was driving it. Now I have no oil in my car and I'm stranded.
Customer Service: Oh my... Let me transfer you. I wouldn't know anything about it! [nervous laughter]
--Hold Music for two seconds before the automotive department picked up.--
Auto Service: Hello, thank you for calling Wal-Mart automotive service and parts [or whatever the hell it's called]. We sell tires for less. This is _____.
Me: Ahhhhh... yes. I was in yesterday for an oil change. My engine stopped running while I was driving it, and when I pulled over to see what was the matter, I had no oil in my car. And I'm stranded right now.
Auto Service: OH MY LORD. Let me get the manager. [Phone clicks as it's laid on the counter. Cashier screams, "DAVID!" and relates to him in a very jumbled way why I want to talk to him. The phone clicks as someone picks up the phone.]
David: This is David. How can I help you?
Me: Hello! I was in yesterday for an oil change. Today on the way home my engine stopped running while I was driving. When I pulled over, I had no oil in my engine-
David: OhmyGod.
Me: -and I'm stranded.
David: [audible deep breath] Where are you?
Me: I'm in Little Rock, but I have a tow truck coming for me. That's been taken care of.
David: Where are you having it towed to?
Me: My parents wanted me to have it towed to Wal-Mart.
David: Okay. That would be good. Let me have your name and phone number.

As soon as I got off the phone with David, a man pulled over ahead of me and stuck his head out the window. "Are you alright?" I nodded and told him I had a tow truck coming. He told me he just wanted to check and I thanked him. I called my grandmother and my mother back (as they had both called me in the five minutes I was on the phone), and found out that the guy that we called to come tow my car was stuck in traffic nearly 75 miles away, and that I would have to wait on him to give him the key to my car. Lovely. I called my best friends and got no answer, so I settled in for a pleasantly unplanned reading of Slaughterhouse Five.

The tow truck guy called and tried to make sure of where I was. One my best friends called me back. My mother and my grandmother called me again. An army soldier stopped and checked on me. A state trooper stopped and checked on me. He told me my license plates didn't match my car, but this turned out to be his error. Then he became really jovial and told me to make a paper airplane of the warning ticket he had to write. All in all, I read about 10 pages of my book.

My mom and sort-of-stepdad (long story) came and got me, and we met the tow truck at Benton to give him the key to my car. We went out to eat for dinner, and my grandmother called me and told me that the man who was towing my car suggested that I not take it to Wal-Mart, because they could "fix" whatever it was and claim it wasn't their fault. He said he had seen it before, and would hate for it to happen to me. So we decided he would lock it up for the night and that the next morning take it to the dealership where I bought it. Then we changed the plan and decided to take it to the dealership for the car maker (Dodge) instead of the dealership where I bought it (Ford).

Part II of this riveting epic due before Christmas! I know you're waiting anxiously.

Firestarters: Highlights of the Highly Miscellaneous

Posted by Whit Barringer , Wednesday, December 19, 2007 11:10 PM

I'm starting a new post-type. We've got the regular kind, the filler kind, and now the "Firestarter" kind. These are links to articles, research, pictures, videos, products - you name it - that caught my interest. If you have anything to add or something you'd like to see on the site, then done hesitate to reply to one of these posts.

  • "Al-Qaeda to give 'open interview.'"
    • Be sure that this will be gathering attention in the next few weeks if it actually happens. It's a curious step that al-Zawahiri is making, and it will be quite interesting to see where this goes.
  • BROTRON
    • Greg Brotherton has a self-described "passion for all types of design." It certainly shows. He has some amazing pieces of art in the online gallery. I found it on a Wired.com list on steampunk, which had some really cool stuff.
  • Brianna Martray
    • I was in Denver recently and saw Martray's work, which is an odd but very interesting in its execution. Besides, she has a work named after Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. She's apparently up to a lot more than just painting, too.
  • "EU Ministers to allow more fish to be caught next year."
    • It's a sad day for environmentalists. It's just another case that's indicative of our (meaning "the world's") inability to a) plan ahead, b) accept the consequences of our past actions, c) accept that it takes suffering of people in the present to guarantee the future, and d) realize that standing up for the right thing often means losing favor with someone, somewhere.
  • No Matter the Approach, Sex Ed Works
    • Well, it might, but the results are ambiguous and don't lean either way (sex education or abstinence only) in the great sex ed battle. Funnily enough, the goal is to get kids to wait until age 15. Does that seem like a high standard to anyone?
  • Super Slow Motion Compilation
    • Exactly what it sounds like. Lots of slow motion clips put together in rapid succession. Got this from a forum I frequent.
  • "Best Buy Bodhisattva"
    • Cool anecdotal blog post about Guitar Hero III and the "religious experiences" we can have with video games.

I should have gone into journalism, but I'd probably die sooner.

Posted by Whit Barringer 7:53 PM

So I'm feeling some leftover aggression from this past semester, and since I don't want to blog over 15 different topics in one post, I'll settle for a really unimportant article that happened to pick a bad moment for me to read it.

For some reason, I take it upon myself to read a half-sports half-public opinion piece in the New York Times. My curiosity was piqued by the title "Fledgling 'Fire Isiah' Movement Takes to the Streets". I had no idea who Isiah was or why people were starting a movement to get him fired, and was immediately interested, considering how topsy turvy the world news has been lately.

Can't say I was surprised when I found out that the Isiah mentioned was Isiah Thomas, "coach and President" of the Knicks, whose record is apparently a sore spot for fans. I knew nothing of this, and kept reading because I have an insatiable desire to be on top of things - whether I care about all of them or not (you never know what's going to come up in casual conversation!).

But I stopped dead at this (bold/italics are mine):

The hour-long rally appeared peaceful. Fans gathered to sign Nathan’s petition, an eight-foot pink slip that was taller than even a N.B.A. center. Several police officers monitored the event, most of them with bemused smiles on their faces.


There are times when I slip up and use a word incorrectly without thinking about it, or misspell things - you know, typical errors. Yet there is a crucial difference between me and Joe LaPointe. I don't have an editor.

In case you're still in the dark, I'll let Dictionary.com do the honors.

Bemused –adjective
1.bewildered or confused.
2.lost in thought; preoccupied.
And that's precisely the point. I'm almost absolutely sure that the officers weren't a) struggling to wrap their minds around was going on, or b) daydreaming. It's a common mistake because it sounds the same as what was probably meant - amused. I would have been amused by an eight-foot-tall petition as well. But I'm almost certain - almost completely positive - that they weren't bemused by it.

I'm not particularly upset that it happened, because it was a mistake I made a long time ago. It just bothers me because it's one of those words that people have allowed to lapse in meaning, becoming another synonym that the hefty English language doesn't need. It seems more of a sign of laziness than anything else.

That is all.

Filler #2: College Athlete Pay

Posted by Whit Barringer , Sunday, December 16, 2007 10:31 PM

Oh there is so much I want to say here, because many things have come up in recent news that I would like to blog about. Yet time doesn't permit it. My bedtime has past, and I must be at work very early in the morning. However, finals are over (though they may bite me still). You will hear from me very soon.

Here's one of my higher rated articles on Helium. Enjoy.

Q. Should collegiate athletes receive payment for competing in college athletics?

A. No.

The first and foremost reason a person should go to college is for an education. At the college I attend, men and women's university sports take up to six hours of practice per day. This leaves little time for studies and social interaction, but it is something they choose. Why? Because they get a full scholarship.

Yet so many feel that an education isn't enough - that there has to be cash money involved for it all to be worthwhile. Suddenly, expense-free education isn't a payment - it's a perk. This issue goes far beyond the actual athletic side of things. This is about cost-benefit ratio between education and money-efficiency.

In many small towns around the U.S., kids are given an ultimatum: either the child does well in sports, gets a scholarship, and goes on to become something better, or the child can stay in the small town and follow in the footsteps of those before him or her. In cities across American, poor children and their families are given the same option. Sports are important - not just because they provide physical activity and social situations, but because so many view them as a ticket out of an undesirable situation.

Making college synonymous with big money isn't a desirable image. It changes the focus of the university, layers doubt on credibility, and destroys the trust amongst students, administration, and athletes. College shouldn't be a business. Paying students for sports devalues the education process and turns the whole thing into halfway house for those moving between high school and professional sports.

Also, where would the money come from? Tuition fees under "Athletic Salary"? Or from taxes? It doesn't make sense to put athletes on payroll for anything other than - at most - a free ride. Let's not forget why all students are meant to go to college to receive. Sliding greenbacks under the table and a diploma over the top isn't going to improve a collegiate experience, and pretending that it really is that way will only seek to demean those serious students, faculty, and administrators forced to go along.

If motivation was a snake, I wish it would bite me.

Posted by Whit Barringer , Wednesday, December 05, 2007 5:29 AM

This semester has been rough. Really rough. The marathon paper turned out not so well. "Not so well" means "B+", but it bothered me a lot that what I thought was one of my best papers ended up being... well... not so much. My thesis is defunct, quite officially. I'm looking at three B's if I don't pull up my shoelaces. And... school just sucks in general.

Part of it has to do with the expectations of my professors. I'm not particularly upset that they exist, but I am rather flustered with it on both sides of the coin. My professor's expectations with me are either higher or nonexistent in comparison with my own. One of my professor's teaches a class of twenty people and doesn't know a single one of our names. This same professor apparently didn't notice that about 50% of our class has been missing for the majority of the semester, because he told us that our attendance had been really good. However, my language teacher is constantly pushing and making the students learn. Her expectations are very high, but I feel like this is fair because of how she works with us. On the other hand, another professor uses classtime as a tribute to his own ego (most of our assigned readings have been things he has written). His expectations of me are high, but I don't think it's fair because I always feel like he asks the wrong questions in response to things I write - meaning I think that he has the wrong impression of my paper when he finishes it.

Move on to my thesis tutorial class where there are such high expectations with no direction from any of my superiors, and you've found where the disconnect between school and me begins. I feel pathetic and weak because I'm not able to fight my own discontent and lack of desire to have a fulfilling education this semester, but I also feel like it would be as helpful as punching, kicking, and screaming would be to keeping afloat in the middle of the ocean. So I've decided to tread water while I can.

Not that treading doesn't have its consequences. I've know people who have been doing so since they got to college (and are still doing so afterward). But I feel that my life has become so fast-paced and determined by those outside myself that "treading water" - even for half of one semester - is a euphemism for "drowning." The dates pass me by, the times hit me in the face, the people pull me down. I've put myself into this position, and I'm not complaining that I've done so, per se. I enjoy my responsibilities and I have a desire to do my duties. But I also feel like I've allowed myself to be tied and gagged without possibility of escape for a future I'm not even sure of yet. Are my sacrifices of self too great? Have I done too much? Or am I just too lazy? I don't quite know that, but I do know that I still feel compelled to do what I've promised to do, and that I love being able to offer my services at their demand. I really think my lack of motivation is a byproduct of a really rough semester. And you know what they say about rough times?

This too shall pass.

...or at least it better. I've got a year and a half left.

Filler #1: Gun Control

Posted by Whit Barringer , Monday, December 03, 2007 12:21 PM

This is the first (of what will probably be quite a few) of my debate/question responses from Helium (though I will use other "filler" as well - I reserve my rights to do so). These are things I have written in their entirety off the cuff. I joined to improve my rhetoric, and, since they are ranked by other Helium users, I tend to learn a lot about myself. It proves to be rather convenient now, since a) I'm entirely too busy to stop and write a thoughtful entry, b) it's still thoughtful and relevant content, and c) it keeps this from being a dead site. So, without further ado, here's Helium Filler #1.

Q. Are gun control laws compatible with the Constitution's right to bear arms provisions?

A. Yes.

Gun control laws are necessary to keep others safe. Most people assume that gun control laws mean the state will automatically take away all firearms that have any power. Yet this is not the case at all: gun control is meant to make people use common sense and safety.

There is a reason fully automatic weapons have been prohibited around the country and world. There is no reason to hunt with a fully automatic weapon. They are made to be able to kill as many people as possible. For instance, the AK-47s that insurgents around the world use are examples of the kind of weapon these organizations look for - a gun that loads fast and sprays faster. Fully automatic weapons are meant to maximize kills. There is nothing sensible about having such a weapon.

Gun control laws are not out to take away shotguns and rifles. The primary aim of gun control is to take away concealable weaponry. Why do we need pistols under our pillows? If we can get rid of them all handguns, then there ceases to be a threat that such defense will be needed against. Most people will not take a rifle to a robbery or a shotgun to break and enter. Gun control is about minimizing the threat.

Think about a robbery or a gunfight that has happened in the past. What guns were used? More than likely they were handguns. Rifles and shotguns (hunting weapons the last I checked) are too heavy and bulky to be used for such things.

Now that I've made my case for the principle of gun rights, I'll answer the actual question of whether gun control is "compatible" with the Constitution.

The Constitution is about protecting people from each other and often from themselves. This is exactly the reason the second amendment was ever written. See here:

"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

"A well regulated militia" is a protection organization. We have the National Guard now, who takes this role as guardian of the state. At the time the Constitution was written, a militiaman was also a citizen. It was in this way that the power of the state was in the hands of the people, and the people rose to participate in militias as part of the defense of the state and their right as American citizens.

Yet the militia has been replaced with the National Guard, a military organization. There are still self-proclaimed militias in parts of the country, and if the state proclaims them as "being necessary to the security" of the state, then none of us can deny their right to bear arms - in defense of the state.

It doesn't come so easy for the rest of us. Somewhere along the lines "a well regulated militia" became every man, woman, and child that could afford a gun at Wal-Mart. Flouting the second amendment, and only quoting part of it, has led to a great misunderstanding that each of us is entitled to be a gun-toting American.

So is gun control compatible with the second amendment? Absolutely. I'd go so far as to say that gun control is what the second amendment was originally *meant* for. But is it compatible with how we interpret and understand it today? No, but that's something that can change with more education and less fear-mongering that the government is out to strip you of your rights and leave you defenseless.